By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – South Effingham's softball players had to put their most lopsided regular-season loss in four years behind them and they had 20 minutes to do it.
"Honestly, it didn't feel great," said Mustangs outfielder Emma Darrow about a 13-5 loss to Grovetown in the first game of a doubleheader Sept. 6.
The defending Region 2-6A champions trailed 3-0 in the sixth inning of Game 2.
But the Mustangs produced a stunning reversal led by pitcher Bailey Kendziorski – at the plate. Her two-out, two-strike, three-run triple tied the nightcap. Two batters later, Darrow followed with a two-run triple to break the deadlock as SEHS won 6-3 to gain a split of the doubleheader.
It turned into a night of celebration. Kendziorski struck out the side in the seventh to finish with 10 strikeouts and reach the 500-strikeout milestone in her high school career.
"Obviously, it was good to see the kids bounce back after a tough Game 1," Mustangs coach Adam Newland said. "You have to forget about that game. You can't let a game beat you twice and the kids did a good job of coming back out, scratching and clawing to find a way to win Game 2."
South (12-3, 7-1 Region 2-6A) stayed even in the loss column with Effingham County for the top spot in the region standings. Grovetown, a No. 3 seed in the region last season, has three losses.
The three-game series with Effingham is Sept. 26-28. The Mustangs still have one game left with Grovetown on Oct. 2. ECHS finished its series with Grovetown, winning two of three games.
Darrow wasn't looking that far ahead, particularly after the Game 1 humbler that was stopped after five innings because of the eight-run Mercy rule. SEHS committed five errors, leading to 11 unearned runs. The Mustangs trailed 12-0 before batting in the third inning.
During the last four years, South's largest margin of defeat in a regular-season game was five runs – 6-1 to Emanuel County Institute last season.
"This is a pitch-by-pitch game – always," Darrow said. "Every team has an off game. This is a learning moment and I absolutely believe we'll be better."
The late rally helped SEHS pull even on a nearly 4 ½ day/night of softball. Kendziorski had her scoreless string of innings snapped at 34 when Grovetown plated two runs in the fourth inning.
The Warriors went ahead 3-0 on Maddy Harl's run-scoring double in the fifth.
Things looked bleak for the Mustangs. Grovetown pitcher Josalyn Sergent took a two-hitter into the sixth.
But after one out, freshmen Danni Lynn and Alyssa Martin smacked doubles. South's pinch runner reached third, making sure Martin's long drive wouldn't be caught.
With two outs, Sarah Messex walked to load the bases, bringing up Kendziorski. Her Texas Leaguer down the right-field line dropped in and kicked away from the hard-charging outfielder.
"The girls who got on base started it and I just continued it," Kendziorski said. "I'm just glad I made contact."
Madison Mills followed with a walk, then stole second base before the left-handed Darrow hit a line drive just inside the left-field line that rolled to the fence.
"That pitch that I hit, I thought, I'm going to hit it and it's going to find a gap and those runs are going to come in," Darrow said. "That was the best feeling."